Award Booking Review: MileValue (trip 2)

In the post “Get the most from your miles,” I suggested that using a good award booking service is a great way to get the most value from your miles.  Read the comments of that post for reader reviews and recommendations of several award booking services.  If you run an award booking service of your own, please feel free to advertise by adding a comment to that same post.  Eventually I plan to dig through those comments to create a summary page of award booking services including fees and customer reviews.

Today’s post is a second review of MileValue’s award booking service.  In my original review I described a trip that MileValue helped me book, and I did my best to be objective despite having received a discount in exchange for writing the review.  Some people took me to task for being too harsh to MileValue.  They suggested (probably correctly) that I overcorrected for potential bias by being too negative.  Others pointed out that I can’t objectively review award booking services if they know who I am.  Surely, they’ll give me better service with the knowledge that I’m likely to write it up.  I agree with that too.  However, as one reader pointed out, customers would have every right to demand the same level of service that I write about.  So, regardless of whether a review like this one is objective, I believe it can be helpful.

The Challenge

My Mom (Mom Miler) and her husband have been planning to visit his son in Asia and to tour Vietnam.  Just to keep things interesting, the tour starts in one city and ends in another.  Mom Miler has been building up her stash of frequent flyer miles and understandably wanted to use them to fly in luxury for this trip: international business or first class.

I spent some time trying to book Mom Miler’s trip.  I started with Delta, but had no luck finding low-level award availability.  Next, I moved on to United.  Plenty of low level awards seemed to be available, but when I tried to book the flights I ran into several issues.  In some cases the trip priced higher than I expected (because I didn’t fully understand the routing rules).  Sometimes the web site simply returned an error message.  Once, I thought I had a good itinerary and was about to book it when I finally noticed that one of the longest legs was actually in coach.  Oops!

MileValue to the rescue

When I suggested that we use an award booking service, Mom Miler readily agreed.  We sent the desired itinerary to MileValue to see what he could do.  Just as I had, MileValue began with a search for Delta availability.  The plan was that I would use my Delta miles and Mom Miler would pay me back with Ultimate Rewards points (at a discount).  This way we would get great value from my Delta miles and have the benefit of my Platinum status: free award changes up to 72 hours prior to the trip.

No good SkyTeam (Delta) options opened up, so MileValue turned to United.  Unlike me, MileValue knew how to find routes that were actually bookable and he knew how to book them.  He sent Mom Miler a list of options.  With each option he carefully described the pros and cons.  He combined his own experience with Seat Guru research to explain the relative merits of each option.  Here’s an excerpt from one of his emails:

These are the two best options. The first is the shortest. It features about 14 hrs in United’s international business class product called BusinessFirst, which I recently flew London to LAX. IT’s a great, long, fully flat bed that you’ll enjoy.

The second routes slightly differently and takes one extra hour. You get about the same amount of time in United BusinessFirst, and you get 7 hours in a Thai A380. The A380 is the newest, biggest plane out there, so a lot of people love flying it. Plus the Thai business class product on the A380 is a flat bed whereas their product on the A330 in the first itinerary is just a big recliner seat.

For people who don’t know the advantages of one flight over another, I thought this was great information!  If I had booked the flights myself I would have simply found the best available business class dates and times without regard for the quality of the business class seats.

After a bit of back and forth (including new information about where Mom Miler’s tour ended), Mom Miler picked an itinerary.  The itinerary wasn’t bookable online, so MileValue used a trick to avoid what would have been a $50 phone booking fee.  He booked one leg online and then called to book the rest.  For a total cost of 240K miles and $159.18 in taxes and fees, MileValue had helped Mom Miler book a luxury trip for two from Detroit to Bangkok, Singapore to Hong Kong, and Hong Kong to Detroit. 

Mom Miler’s Review

Here’s what Mom Miler had to say about MileValue’s service:

I thought Mile Value provided responsive service.  He was quick to respond to questions and always got back to me in a timely manner.  This is a strong point and for me very important. 

My only complaint/surprise was when I actually booked the flights. He never told be that one of the flights was leaving from Beijing instead of from Tokyo.  I thought United made a mistake but it turned out that the Tokyo flight wasn’t available anymore so he booked us from Beijing.  [Frequent Miler note: Mom Miler is referring to a layover on her Detroit to Bangkok flight]

Overall, Mom Miler said she would use MileValue again and felt that this was “definitely the way to go.”  I agree.

Results by category

Let’s look at how well MileValue lived up to the promise of a good award booking service:

  • Better Award Availability.  Since United.com does a pretty good job of showing award availability, I’m not sure we gained anything here.  This category would be more important if we weren’t able to find low level awards on our own.  This isn’t a good or bad rating – it simply didn’t really matter in this instance.
  • Save Miles & Money.  Mom Miler would have spent at least $1700 per person for coach seats, plus more for flights between cities.  By taking advantage of United’s flexible routing rules, MileValue was able to extract maximum value from Mom Miler’s miles.  And, as icing on the cake, MileValue saved her $50 in phone booking fees.
  • Better flight experience.  Mom Miler’s flights begin next year, so it will be a while before we have proof, but I have little doubt that Mom Miler will have better flight experiences than if I had booked the itinerary for her.
  • Less Aggravation.  There’s no question in my mind here that using MileValue’s service saved me a huge amount of time and aggravation!

 

Reader Reviews

If you have had experience with MileValue or other award booking services, please let us know how it went.  Did you get good value from the service?  Would you use them again?

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

Comments

  1. I also helped Mom Miler with the Hanoi to Singapore portion of this trip. I sent her an email explaining the award versus cash options for that segment because it could not be booked as part of this United award. I always do this because many times an award is not the best option. Check this post for what I sent her: http://milevalue.com/not-anatomy-of-an-award-just-book-with-cash/
    There was a bit of a miscommunication in the booking. Mom Miler and I had been discussing two outbounds, both of which were acceptable to her and one of which she preferred. The space on the preferred one disappeared. At the time of booking, instead of calling her back, I booked the secondary acceptable one. This was to save us both time and ensure that that space didn’t disappear also.
    I WOULD NOT DO THIS except when booking a United award because United awards allow a free cancellation for up to 24 hours. That meant that if she didn’t like the booking I’d made, we could get all the miles and dollars back no problem.
    REMINDER to anyone who wants a trip in the next 11 months to the Maldives, Seychelles, Indian subcontinent, and many other great places Qatar Airways serves with a fantastic business class product: Qatar award space is only bookable with United miles through Friday. Contact me ASAP if you want to enjoy fully flat beds and the Doha Premium Terminal.

  2. I hope MileValue had not assumed, that because of the discount given, you’d write a (more or less) positive review as a courtesy. Otherwise he is probably feeling a little blue after round 1 & 2 of your MileValue review series. 😉

  3. Since your mom’s itenerary is so far out – what happens if there’s a flight schedule change? Will MileValue contact your mom indicating the change and ask if she wants to do something different?

  4. So, I read both of these reviews and thought MileValue was definitely a good way to go with difficult and aggravating bookings. I didn’t come away feeling negative about it at all–just impressed that there are services that can do this magic!

  5. Actually,I have a big experience for travel to Asia with luxury first Class. For the ‘my mom’ that case, it would not be so difficult to image.
    Let me clear, I made a last decision book a first class fly from MIA back to China,with a stop in Seoul for several days,with my US D&M miles.
    Totally 8 segments with some transfer up to 24hrs,also took TG 77w which is a suite, and LX A333 first class, suite too.
    I booked May 23rd and fly May 28th, it’s kind of a hot traveling season, wasn’t it?
    FYI, I just flied my own, so it might kind of easier to find out the route.
    Also,I book a International Flight from China-USA for 2 in First class this Xmas,with UA 777 First and OZ 747 New F.
    For some reasons, I don’t want to put the route something here, let me know if you are interested.
    Lol

  6. I am right now working with MileValue to get some changes in my current itinerary from EWR-SGN, and HAN-EWR in December and to work on summer plans to Anchorage and Vancouver. We haven’t changed or booked anything yet but I have high hopes. His expertise in open-jaws and stop overs with United is priceless. If everything works according to plans, I might get a free extra flight EWR-Anchorage next year by changing the Vietnam itinerary I had booked myself!

  7. I recently used MileValue’s service to book two tickets for next summer to Norway. That might not seem too complicated, but I needed to coordinate those two award tickets with three paid tickets coming from two other home airports. MileValue was so helpful and very patient as I adjusted our parameters along the process.

    Once the tickets were chosen, MileValue helped me to add a one-way leg for free! Since it was two tickets, that’s like a free round trip ticket! I never would have known to do this. That alone was worth MileValue’s fee.

    MileValue even stepped in on my behalf when there was a glitch with the phone booking fee. That issue is still unresolved but I feel confident it will be resolved in my favor and I might even get a few bonus miles for the trouble.

    I have learned a LOT through this process with MileValue. I think his fee is a really good value for his great customer service, and is well worth it.

  8. @ FrequentMiler: Absolutely this review was way better (positive) than the first one from few weeks back. Partially what I said above was meant as a joke, but I think some of us who regularly read your blog were just a little surprised by the depth of the critique (both pros & cons) as (speaking for myself personally), you usually tend to focus more on the positives in your posts. Then again you don’t do many reviews so may be that’s why it also felt different than your usual style. Nonetheless, if I need an award booking service, I think I’ll email MileValue because he appears to know what he is doing based on reading your reviews + his comments. I’m sold!

  9. @PJ this award is Detroit to Bangkok, Singapore to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Detroit. There is one stopover (HKG on the return) and one open jaw (flew into BKK and returned from SIN). her trip includes an as-yet-unbooked second award Hanoi to Singapore because we squeezed all the juice we could from the first award.

  10. Milevalue (Scott) did an excellent job booking my tickets to Morocco. I could never have found these flights on my own. Great service, great price.

  11. Had a very nice experience with Tahsir at milevalue booking my June 2013 Chicago-Italy-Paris trip for 4. I know how to earn miles but would have spent hours trying to figure out open jaws/stopovers and agonized whether I was doing it correctly. He did all the work, laid it out for me to choose from the available options, and booked the reservation. I got on the phone with United to ticket it, which was very easy but l.o.n.g. (about 30 minutes). I felt milevalue’s price was very worth it.

  12. He gave my husband and me free credit card suggestions. After we filled our a questionnaire, he analyzed our goals and current holdings. His suggestions were very thorough and his replies to my questions were very prompt. We will use his booking service to go to Europe as a family.

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